WHO says monkeypox ‘susceptible’

The outbreak of monkeypox cases outside Africa could be contained, the World Health Organization says, as more governments announced plans to launch limited vaccinations to fight the virus’s rising infections.

The measures came as authorities investigated 237 suspected and confirmed cases of the virus in 19 countries since early May.

That number is expected to increase, WHO officials say, but most infections so far have not been serious.

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Scientists do not expect the outbreak to evolve into a pandemic like COVID-19, as the virus does not spread as easily as SARS-COV-2.

Monkeypox is a usually mild viral infection endemic to parts of West and Central Africa.

It mainly spreads through close contact and was rarely seen in other parts of the world until the recent outbreak, which is why the recent rise of cases has raised the alarm.

The majority has been reported in Europe.

On Tuesday, the United Kingdom reported 14 new cases, bringing the total to 70 since May 7, and the United Arab Emirates and the Czech Republic registered their first infections.

“We encourage all of you to step up surveillance on monkeypox to see where the transmission levels are and understand where it’s going,” said Sylvie Briand, WHO Director for Global Infectious Hazard Preparedness.

While she said the outbreak was “not normal”, she emphasized it was “manageable”.

Vaccines and treatments are also available for monkeypox, she added, calling for appropriate containment measures, more research and global collaboration.

“Let’s not turn a molehill into a mountain,” she said at the World Health Assembly in Geneva.

The WHO is working on new guidelines for countries on vaccination strategies and is holding further meetings to support member states with more advice on how to handle the situation.

Some countries are already taking precautions to protect people who may have been exposed to the virus.

On Tuesday, the French health authority recommended that at-risk adults who have been in contact with a person with confirmed monkey pox and health personnel exposed to an infected patient should be vaccinated.

Denmark did the same by providing vaccines to close contacts of those infected with the virus, the Danish health authority told public broadcaster DR.

The country has registered two cases.

The vaccine used is produced by Bavarian Nordic.

It is branded Jynneos in the United States, where it is approved for use against smallpox and monkeypox.

It’s also approved for smallpox in Europe, where it’s called Imvanex, but has been dispensed for off-label use in response to cases of monkeypox.

Germany has ordered 40,000 doses to be ready for use on contacts of infected if an outbreak in the country becomes more severe.

But for now, officials said they were counting on other precautions.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said the outbreak could be contained with early intervention and not signal the start of a new pandemic, and a senior WHO official issued similar guidance on Monday.

US health officials on Monday prepared to release some Jynneos doses.

UK authorities were the first to take such action by offering vaccines to some health professionals and others who may have been exposed to monkey pox last week.

The moves come as scientists try to understand more about the mode of transmission and who is most at risk.

Briand reiterated the WHO’s view that the virus is unlikely to have mutated, but transmission may be caused by a change in human behaviour, especially as people return to socializing as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted globally.

Health experts look for mutations that can make a virus more easily transmissible or more serious.

Many, but not all, cases have been reported in men who have sex with men, and Briand said it was particularly important to prevent sexual transmission.

Symptoms include a fever and a characteristic bumpy rash.

The West African species of monkeypox, which has been identified in the current outbreak, has a fatality rate of about 1 percent.

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